There is hardly a day without questions from our clients regarding network solutions, and recently, access points. This guide series addresses at least some of the doubts and questions, and introduces more details. Find out why it is a smart thing to consider equipment dedicated to a specific environment, what to focus on, and see our bestsellers.
Let’s start with home-use solutions. In the next part, we will present our suggestions for small and medium enterprises, as well as larger spaces. The selection is based on our experience and your needs. If you have any suggestions, additions to our list, or simply can’t decide and want to talk to our expert, feel free to drop us a comment!
Ensuring a stable signal in an entire house or flat might be a challenge. Wireless connection is affected even by the type of building material. The signal is quite often attenuated by walls. Also, more and more devices use WiFi, which adds an increasing load to networks and channels. Expanding the home network using access points definitely involves less problems and proves much more appealing than using cables. When choosing a specific solution, it is worth taking into consideration e.g. the strength and coverage of the signal, configuration and management methods, available frequencies and the guest network option. Among the most popular manufacturers of home-use access points are Ubiquiti, MikroTik, Ruckus and Zyxel. We will demonstrate a collection of models, starting with the most common challenges..
Network’s range, or propagation, is the most important factor affecting its stable operation. In apartments, it’s simple – devices usually work on a single level, and proper placement of access points, as well as selecting their number, is definitely easier than in the case of homes. However, air installations and chimneys, as well as fire doors must be considered.
The signal strength is quite a challenge. The stronger the output signal, the larger the area that is covered, but as its strength decreases, so does the speed at which the data is transferred between the access point and the host. A much bigger challenge arises in the case of a multi-storey house, in which ceilings are most often reinforced or have underfloor heating, which presents a significant signal blocker. In addition, most of the access points and routers broadcast the signal horizontally.
The common misconception is that devices with external antennas offer a broader range. However, there are many solutions available that confirm that models with built-in antennas work equally well, or even better. Two factors determine the range of each device in the open space – amplification of the antenna, expressed in dBi, informing how much the signal was amplified, and the direction of the antenna.
There are several ways to solve the issue of with range. The least recommended idea is to use of a high-power device, which in most cases is unable to provide a sufficient connection, especially when they are located at a greater distance from the access point, or are separated by a barrier blocking the signal. Since the devices are also equipped with a radio module with its own range, the network propagated by the access point will be visible, but establishing a connection will be impossible.
However, there are simpler and more effective methods; one of them is distributing the network cabling in the apartment or house in order to connect access points in such places as to cover the selected area with WiFi. However, this is an ideal situation in which you can take full advantage of the network’s capabilities when it is not possible to use mesh devices. Their operation is based on the use of many devices connected with each other wirelessly. Such architecture is a great solution, but it has several limitations, above all bandwidth, unfortunately bringing a bit slower connection than using classic structures. What is important, mesh technology is not the same as repeaters. The former allows to dynamically change connection, and the latter only expands the network and are rigidly assigned to duplicate the signal from a specific access point.
In this case, the situation is reversed. In homes noise usually is absent, or is almost imperceptible, but in apartments it can be a serious problem, with many WiFis and many users. Noise occurs in two situations: active noise appears when our device detects the range of more than one network almost anywhere, due to your neighbours’ equipment. Passive noise is created when devices working in a standard other than WiFi emit a signal in the band used by our network. While it is difficult to deal with the latter without specialized spectrum-analyzing devices, solving the problem with the former is possible: just tweak the channel on which your device operates. In theory, each producer implements algorithms that allow choosing a channel, but they are not always efficient enough to select the optimal one. As a result of overlapping networks, the connection quality drops significantly, which may result in a higher ping and slower communication between devices using WiFi, and in extreme cases, breaking the connection. To easily figure out how to find the right WiFi network channel, we recommend using applications dedicated to this purpose, e.g. WiFi Analyzer (iOS, Android).
“Here’s some basic theory, useful in fully understanding how networks operate. WiFi channels and frequencies as wireless communication methods operate in the 2412 – 2472 (2.4 GHz) frequency range, divided into 13 20-Mhz channels and in the 5180 – 5700 (5 GHz) range, divided into 19 similar channels. In 2.4 GHz frequency, only 3 channels are available that do not interfere. At 5 GHz this problem disappears, which is why this technology is increasing in popularity. The signal strength indicator is RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator), which also receives noise. Higher data transfer activity is reported in negative values – the closer to zero, the better the signal,” points out Mateusz Grela, our technical support expert and and network solutions engineer.
Understanding the principles of wireless networks makes knowing the main standards in wireless networks easier. The list below shows how the choice of the right standard affects the signal strength.
- 802.11a – up to 54 Mb/s – 5 GHz frequency.
- 802.11b – 11 Mb/s – the 2.4 GHz frequency has a range of about 30 m in a room, and 120 m in the open space. Maximum transfer speed is 5.5 Mb/s. It is divided into 14 channels that overlap at times. In Poland, bands from 2400 to 2483.5 MHz (1 – 13) are used. Please note that concrete, water or metal decrease signal strength.
- 802.11g – 54 Mb/s – 2.4 GHz frequency. In practice, the standard allows achieving transfers up to 20-22 Mbit/s. The use of older devices cuts the speed by half.
- 802.11n – 300 Mb/s at 5 GHz, and 150 Mb/s at 2.4 GHz frequency. This is the most popular standard allowing a 150 Mbit/s. A stable signal is required for proper operation.
- 802.11ac – up to approx. 1-2 Gb/s.
- 802.11ax – up to approx. 10 Gb/s.
MikroTik offers classic devices that can be expanded: hAP ac lite TC, hAP mini i hAP ac2. The models come with very powerful WiFi modules, able to cover a large area with a signal. Their downside is a small number of channel management tools (at least in the basic scope) and relatively low computing power, which translates into a small network capacity (the number of devices that can connect to it). That is why they work especially well in small apartments. Advanced users can enjoy more complex configuration functionalities, including a controller built into each device.
“The solutions that deserve special attention are Ubiquiti’s UAP-AC-Lite i UAP-AC-LR. Their advantage is a single-application, intuitive management system, which doesn’t require any knowledge of network issues. In addition, the application offers tools to analyze and solve problems with the WiFi network. The models offered by Ubiquiti are among the most frequently chosen solutions. Their well-thought, appealing design is also noteworthy. UAP-AC-Lite is mainly recommended for apartments and small, one-storey houses. The more powerful UAP-AC-LR will be better suited for larger apartments and two-storey houses. Their downside is the ceiling antennas. Wall mounting changes how the device operates, and this in turn affects of the signal range,” explains Adam Wawrzynek, Senetic’s network solutions expert of many years.
Of the devices intended for consumer uses, Ruckus is rarely mentioned, but when it comes to the ease of management, the power of radio modules and stability with a long warranty – the manufacturer is second to none. Models R310 and R510 combine the advantages of MikroTik and Ubiquiti’s solutions, offering a built-in, user-friendly controller. The producer guarantees that a network can be set up in just 3 minutes. Similar to Ubiquiti, Ruckus allows building a mesh network based on classic access points. Its products are equipped with Channel Fly – an advanced tool to reduce noise in channels. The solution enables dynamic change of channels, departing from the static settings of the most favorable channel selected during setup. The applied BeamFlex technology provides a strong signal to devices located far away from access points. This translates into both speed and operating stability.
AmpliFi is Ubiquiti’s premium solution, distinguished by a very flexible communication model and intuitive configuration with a smartphone application. The model requires using AFi-R as the main station. To create a network, you need AFi-P-HD with less bandwidth or a second router (then you can connect devices with a cable). The AmpliFi series comes with additional accessories – including a portable router offering the possibility of setting up a VPN on our home device. The NVR and a module with a loudspeaker for the internet radio will be available soon.
“A solution that is also based on the mesh network topology is Zyxel’s Multy. The model operates similarly to AmpliFi, however, it the offer includes only a single model, which will work well in slightly less demanding environments. It is managed as easily as Ubiquiti’s model, using a dedicated application. Multy offers LAN ports, so other devices can be connected via cable. The device integrates with IoT systems, e.g. Amazon’s Alexa. A very reasonable solution, with a really good price-performance ratio,” says Marek Noga, our network solutions specialist.
Models mentioned in the article:
|hAP ac lite TC||hAP mini||hAP ac2||UAP-AC-Lite||UAP-AC-LR|
We’re here to answer your questions!
This is but an introduction to home-use network solutions. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out our website, to compare the parameters of the devices proposed above, and choose the price tier that matches your budget. In case of additional questions, please contact our specialists who contributed to this material. They will help you make the best choice. Adam specializes in solutions by Ubiquiti and MikroTik – call him at +48 32 420 92 92 or write at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Marek knows all about the solutions by Ruckus and Zyxel – you can reach him at +48 32 420 93 11 or email: email@example.com.
Coming soon is more information on access points, this time for small and medium enterprises. Stay tuned!